Elliott Erwitt once said, “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things in words.” Discussing Joanna Mrówka’s photographs with her brought the old photographer’s adage to mind. Mrówka, a professional mathematician, is by her own admission not one to say much. Instead, her vibrant, life-filled pictures say far more than she could ever convey in writing. Whether traveling close to home in Poland or venturing to farther-flung locales—Morocco, India, Bangladesh—her goal is the same: to capture light and shadow, to convey form and color, to focus on humans and how they relate (knowingly and unknowingly) to the world around them. Simple enough concepts as words, endlessly complex (and beautiful) when conveyed visually.

Despite her generally quiet demeanor, Mrówka recognizes the importance of relating to her subjects. This takes different forms in different places: “In India, everybody wants to be photographed, everyone wants to be a star. In Morocco, people do not like having their picture taken and since I don’t speak French, the possibility for reaching a verbal agreement is small. Meanwhile, at home, people are more leery, suspicious. Privacy is important. But at least in Poland, even if it takes time to break this barrier, with persistence I can get closer with people—and it often bears fruit.”

Slowly and methodically, Mrówka continues to hone her craft. These days, her focus is on constructing multi-layered images that pack in numerous stories and complex interrelations within a single frame. Due to her mathematical leanings, Mrówka finds herself fighting the urge to keep her compositions overly ordered. Nevertheless, due to the delicacy of such pictures, such careful constructions don’t come about by accident. Even before she has reviewed her work for the day, she usually knows when she has captured a great shot.

Yet sometimes, still, an unexpected, yet instinctive pull of the trigger can capture a magical moment as well. For example, the final photo in the slideshow above, “Marrakesh. Morocco” was a moment of pure reaction, of feeling rather than conscious thought. Wordlessly, a tiny piece of the world rendered into something we can all appreciate.

Like many of us, Mrówka’s passion for photography began innocently enough—with a basic camera, given to her all the way back in elementary school. Step by step, her passion grew. Today, though she continues to work as an assistant professor, she admits, “Photography eats me, piece by piece.”

—Alexander Strecker

Joanna Mrówka was named one of the winners of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2015. Discover more fresh, award-winning work from all 31 of the international photographers after you’ve fully enjoyed Mrówka’s photographs.